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The Church of England decides to have women bishops


In 1992 the Church of England (CoE) voted in its Synod to ordain women priests. It followed the wake of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States (TEC) which decided to ordain women priests in 1979. The first Anglican church to ordain a woman is Hong Kong, whose bisjop ordained its first woman priest Florence Lim in 1944 as a response to a need to minister to women during the Japanese occupation of the territory.

It became obvious that when the CoE decides to ordain women as priests then it must ordain them as bishops. TEC ordained its first woman suffragan bishop Barbara Harris in 1989. However the first Anglican church to ordain a woman bishop as a diocesan was New Zealand who ordained Penny Jamieson in 1989. TEC elected a woman primate (head of a national church), Dr Katherine Jeffert-Schori in 2006.

On the picture here is a supposed ancient depiction of the Virgin Mary as a priest and bishop. She is supposed to wear the Pallium, which is a vestment used only by metropolitan archbishops

In the decisions to have female clergy, provisions were made for people who due to their understanding of church tradition, cannot accept the ministry of women priests. In England, provisions were made for "flying bishops". In the USA, there was a provision that initially allowed dioceses to decide when or when not to ordain women. As most dioceses accepted the changes, this has been made moot.

The CoE synod has removed all legal obstacles in ordaining women to the episcopate. It is just a matter of writing out the necessary legislation. But the CoE has a long standing policy that conscientious objectors must be given provision. The Archbishops of Canterbury and York tried by proposing amendments in this month's synod. But the amendment lost on the Synod floor as was widely expected.

Thus the CoE will have its first women bishops by 2014. The measure will have no problem in getting the Royal Assent.

This has the conscientious objectors in a bind. These objectors are from the Catholic party (who argue in terms of the Apostolic tradition of the Church) and the Evangelicals (who argue from an interpretation of Scripture that says that headship in the church should belong to a man).

Will the objectors abandon ship? The Catholic party can easily take the boat (Apostolic Constitution) called Anglicanorum Coetibus, which gives them the opportunity to join Rome and still keep largely their Anglican traditions even a married priesthood and a form of synodical governance. The constitution also gives married Anglican bishops the right to function as one even if they can't be Catholic bishops. (Rome which at first was willing to give this exception from the tradition of a celibate episcopacy, had to consider the Orthodox insistence on unmarried bishops)

The Evangelicals have no boat except to join like minded Anglicans from the rest of the world, most of them from the Global South. However the spectrum of acceptance of female ordination ranges from "no way!" to "yes". The Evangelicals may have jumped from the frying pan into the slow heat fire that will go into high flame later.

By deciding to have women bishops, Anglicans have made clear that they are another brand of Christianity different from the rest. They are not Catholic and neither are they Orthodox. They may be Protestant but what kind?

I have blogged on the issue of women priests before.

The Catholic Church is faced with more or less the same issues as the Anglicans. There is a loud clamor for female ordination in the Roman church. Several groups have illicitly ordained women and they have been automatically excommunicated. But there is a case of a woman who was allegedly ordained in secret by a Catholic bishop Bp Davidek during the dark days of Atheistic Communism's repression in Czechoslovakia in 1970. Her name is Ludmila Javarova. Like in the case of Rev Lim, she was ordained out of necessity, to minister to women.

The Church has declared that it doesn't have the authority to ordain women as priests. This is true. Even the Orthodox have never ordained a woman as priest and they have the same argument. But women have been ordained to the sacred ministry as deacons in both West and East. But the tradition died out in the early middle ages. Women deacons ministered to women and children.

The Greek Orthodox Church has decided to revive the tradition and allowed the ordination of women deacons to serve women monastic communities. The Armenian Church never lost the tradition. The ordinations of Greek and Armenian clergy are recognized by Rome as valid. But the Roman Church is not settled on the status of women deacons. It is uncertain on the sacramental nature of these ordinations.

What then is the role of women in the Church? It is no secret that in any church, Catholic, Protestant, Born Again, Orthodox or Anglican, much of the service and works of charity are done by women. The transmission of the Faith to children is by women. I remember my Sunday school days and the teacher was a woman who used a red umbrella. The male priest had no direct hand in instruction but he conferred the sacraments. Whether conferral of the sacraments or works of charity, these are all works of service. The conundrum of maleness and femaleness in service is nothing for both male and female can do this. But what about leadership? Is this about sex alone? The Roman Church says that when it is about dispensing most sacraments, the minister that should administer these should be a man. Thus only a male priest or bishop can celebrate the Eucharist, hear confessions, anoint, confirm, and ordain clergy. Deacons can solemnize marriages, baptize and distribute the Eucharist as well as preach. If there are female deacons, it is assumed that they can do this as well.

This is the paradox of Christian service or any kind of service even in the secular world. When do you recognize the importance of being male and female and when do you not? We can't fall into the fallacy of male and female equality because even a reading of Darwin shoots down the concept. And that is just biology. And neither can we fall into the idea that one sex is superior to the other. It doesn't make answering the issues easier

And note that with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III there have been no gender related discussion on the office of the Presidency. We can't say that with his mother, Mrs Aquino who was President too and his immediate predecessor Mrs Arroyo. How come it is so convenient to dump gender discussions when the leader is a man? How come we rail more at corruption when the leader is a woman?

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